In a nutshell, it's the perpetual search for the real meaning of Christmas . . . even when the meaning has long since been established. Why is that?
Yes, it's true that the pendulum of human nature will often swing Christmas into something seemingly dark and sinister masqueraded beneath sparkly paper and bows . . . reduce it to the gifts we receive. To the cynics, Christmas has become nothing more than a metaphor for greed, materialism, and elitism. The annual Black Friday debacle with the tragic trampling of fellow shoppers is shameful evidence. And it's true that Santa Clause often seems to usurp Jesus as the central character in our reason for the season. To the former, I would assert: people are crazy. To the latter, let's understand that people crave what is most tangible. Traditions and customs and ceremony are created from a deep desire to connect with something GOOD . . . something holy. And if we can't touch it, can't quite feel it on the visceral level we desire, we'll create a bridge.
Christmas trees and candy canes and spirit of Christmas manifested into Santa Clause are symbols of our deepest desire for something REAL to reflect on that gives our lives meaning. Nativity scenes and tree-topping stars and ethereal choirs are a yearning for something sacred. And no matter where we fall on the spectrum of our visions, we're all reaching for some magic.
Sometimes we perceive it in the little things.
Christmas 1993 marked the beginning of an end of a long journey for my family. Our youngest daughter, Brooke, 5, had just a few more months of her chemotherapy protocol for the Leukemia she had been diagnosed with two years before. Her prognosis was good, and every milestone . . . every birthday, every holiday, every lab report . . . was a bittersweet celebration of joy and hope. But the years had taken a toll on our little family. I had initially had to quit my job in home day care to fully focus on caring for Brookie, so money was tight on just my husband's military pay. And her illness had had a particular impact on her older sister, Brittany. Deeply sensitive, Britty seemed to absorb every anxiety in our home. And although we were short on emotional reserve and energy to give her the extra attention we knew she needed, we tried to offset that with other things . . . a locket with a pictures of her family, art therapy, a kitten. In 1993, American Girl Dolls were a new phenomenon, all the rage. . . and ridiculously expensive. But Brittany's birthday was just four days after Christmas, and I was determined that we would present her with the newest one, an Addie doll. I shared this plan with Brooke while Brittany was at school one afternoon as we pored over the catalogue that featured doll clothes more expensive than clothes for real children. Brookie had always been more of a stuffed animal kind of kid, and even the few dolls that she had sat primly on a shelf most of the time. So I was completely befuddled to look up from the catalogue to see quiet crocodile tears coursing down my little girl's face. "Honey, what's the matter?!" I asked alarmed and clueless, frantically scanning her little body for anything that I thought might be causing her pain. She stared at me solemnly, in her stoic Cancer kid way, but her little lip quivered when she said, "I wanted a doll, too." and she pointed to one of the five dolls featured in the catalogue, Felicity, that she had secretly had her eye on. My heart broke just a little, but I had already placed the order, and it was so near to Christmas that even if we did have the money to order another doll, it would never arrive in time. Later, I shared the incident with Stephen, and we both agreed to leave things as they were. As hard as it was, even for a Cancer kid, we simply couldn't afford to give in to every whim. . . and maybe she'd forget about it . . . we hoped. A few days later, a package arrived with the elite packaging and logo of the American Girl Doll Company. And when I opened it, there was a Felicity doll . . . NOT the Addie doll that I had ordered . . . staring up at me. I couldn't send her back. Could you? I called the company, and since it was their mistake, they expedited the right doll to arrive by Christmas morning so that both of my girls could open their doll packages at the same time. We chose a less expensive gift for Brittany's birthday . . . and yes, we did receive a Christmas check for the exact amount that that extra doll cost. You can't make these things up. Well, okay, Hallmark does it all the time . . . but I swear I'm not. I will always choose to believe that that was the Christmas that God assured us of healing for both of our daughters . . . and loved them both enough to fulfill their most fervent little Christmas wishes. Christmas IS about presents. Not convincing enough? Here's another one that I challenge you to argue with . . .
Something bigger . . .
In early fall of 2014, my very dear friend lost her husband, a beloved pastor, suddenly and tragically. He died just as the leaves were beginning to turn, and waves after wave of fresh grief carried her and her five sons into the bitter cold of the that winter's holiday season. To make things worse, her second son, who for years had battled drug addiction with the added complication of Type I Diabetes, was sent into a tailspin. She and Larry had many years before established an understanding that any help that they could offer him would have to be away from their home. Even after Larry's death, Sandy held firm to this necessity. But when she heard that their son had been rushed to the hospital, battered and bruised with multiple concussions, she went to him, as any mother would, and sat with him in the hospital where it was determined that he had experienced what may have been multiple seizures alone on the cold, concrete streets of their city, and had been found near death himself. So Sandy spent the weeks leading up to Christmas grieving her husband and caring for their son in the hospital. It was more than anyone could be expected to bear, and her sons encouraged her to fly out to New York to be with her brother and his family just in time for Christmas. The plan fulfilled its desired effect. She felt comforted in her brother's home, cocooned and safe for the first time in months, even in her haze of grief and pain. And she wished for one thing . . . a present.
She shared with me that, "like a little kid" she thought about. . . and wished fervently . . . for just ONE present from somebody, anybody. Nobody had been in a state of mind to think about presents at home . . . and nobody in New York could have known she was coming in time to get her a present. Even so, she kept thinking how nice it would be to have just one present, and then further wished she had something to give. Her thoughts inexplicably drifted to a DVD that Larry had loved. It was a Christmas DVD that he had watched and marveled over even in the summer just before he died. It's called the Star of Bethlehem, and they had both been so impressed with the documentary that astronomically and historically proved the existence of the star that led wise men to Jesus, that they had "lent out" multiple copies that they kept replacing, and then finally just began giving out copies as Christmas gifts in years past. She knew she wasn't getting a present, but thought that that would be the most perfect gift to get and to share.
And as happens at Christmas, rounds of visitors came by, and one, an old friend of the family who heard Sandy would be there, presented her with a package that held the DVD inside. "How did you know?" she asked astonished, and he said, equally astonished by her enthusiasm, "God laid it on my heart to give it to you . . . and the guy who created it and narrates it is actually my cousin. . . " Of course He did . . . and of course it is.
Just listen to the story . . . and believe.